The surprising way your lifestyle choices could fast-track you to a nursing home

A study has shown that people with a high risk lifestyle are more likely to be admitted to a nursing home. Source: Getty Images.

In the prime of youth it’s easy to throw caution to the wind, burning the candle at both ends while indulging in all the vices that seem to make life just that much more thrilling.

We then quickly realise we should be more circumspect about our lifestyle choices so that we may preserve our one precious body to maintain a good quality of life well into old age.

In keeping with this theory, a new study recently published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, has revealed how risky lifestyle factors can significantly increase the chance of being admitted to a nursing home for people who are 60 and over.

The researchers analysed the data from the Australian 45 and Up Study that surveyed 127,108 men and women aged 60 and above between 2006 and 2009.

At the time all participants filled out a lifestyle questionnaire based on the five key risk factors for nursing home care: smoking, physical activity levels, sitting time, sleep patterns, and diet.

Based on their responses, the participants were then categorised as low, medium and high risk lifestyle groups. 24 per cent were allocated to the low risk group, 62 per cent to the medium risk group and 14 per cent to the high risk group.

Records from the Medicare Benefits Schedule showed, during an average monitoring time of 10 years, 23, 094 or 18 per cent of those participants were admitted to a nursing home.

The researchers then compared the different lifestyle groups and revealed the risk of nursing home admission was 43 per cent higher in the high risk group and 12 per cent higher in the medium risk group than the low risk lifestyle group.

The connection between lifestyle score and risk of nursing home admission was linear, but modified by age and physical impairment.

Other findings included:

  • People aged between 60 and 64 with the unhealthiest lifestyles were more than twice as likely to be admitted to a nursing home.
  • All key lifestyle factors, barring diet, were independently associated with nursing home admission with smokers (55 per cent) running the highest risk of admittance.

The researchers acknowledged that this is an observational study and as such can’t establish cause and that findings were limited.

As an example they added that the questionnaire relied on data from one point in time and could not account for lifestyle behaviour changes or the reasons and coexisting health conditions which may have been present at the time of nursing home admission.

Furthermore, they acknowledged that there was no full dietary assessment which could explain the lack of association between diet and nursing home admission.

Regardless of the study’s limitations, the researchers did conclude that, at least in Australia, “lifestyle factors are strongly associated with the risk of long-term nursing home admission in men and women older than 60 years”.

They also described the need for nursing home care as “an outcome of great societal and economic importance with increased population ageing.”

Moving into a nursing home is a tough decision and normally signifies a major and necessary transition in one’s life which requires more support and access to medical care.

Therefore it would be safe to say that finding ways to prolong the need to move would be beneficial to elderly individuals and their families.

The researchers suggested that strategies that improve lifestyle factors should be introduced as new public health measures to help reduce the number of people admitted to nursing homes.

These improved lifestyle factors include stopping smoking, reducing sitting time, increasing physical activity, and improving sleep.






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